When it comes to the media industry the only constant is change, and it’s the publisher who best positions itself to take advantage of inchoate trends that’s most likely to survive.

So it’s always worth examining the predictions of organisations like the Reuters Institute to get a sense of the directions the industry is likely to take over the coming months.

This time, ahead of the full Reuters Institute Media, Journalism and Technology Predictions 2016 report, TheMediaBriefing has been given access to the survey results on which the report is partially based. We’ve pulled out five key takeaways that demonstrate what some of the smartest people in the industry are thinking about. 

Engagement over reach

Over the past few weeks there’s been a groundswell of support for the idea that maybe scale is unsustainable for all but the biggest digital publishers. Whether it’s our contributor Kevin Anderson arguing that…

“There is no second place in this game, and there’s going to be a lot of failures as start-ups reach the end of their ramp without a buyer to save them. As the landscape consolidates through acquisition and deadpooling, the end of the market where scale reigns supreme will have named its winners. I suspect it has already.”

… or Digiday’s Ricardo Bilton pointing out that the flattening growth of even giants like BuzzFeed has led to a cooling of their editorial ambitions, it all suggests that while huge reach is a fantastic advantage for publishers, they have to find other ways to monetise an audience that simply growing it.

That view is possibly supported by the Reuters Institute survey, which saw 54 percent of its 130 respondees identify deepening engagement with their audiences as being a key strategic priority, compared with 41 percent who said the same of increasing their reach.

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There’s still a lot of anxiety about digital transition

Of the survey respondees, 22 percent said they were more worried about their company’s digital revenues than last year. That compares to 50 percent who said their level of worry remained around the same.

Obviously that’s a very subjective question, and a laissez-faire respondee with absolute faith in their company’s digital revenue proposition would be included in the same category as a publisher who’s been having a continuous heart attack about it since 2010. But it does suggest there’s ever more anxiety about digital transition, many many years after it first reared its head. 

The report ascribes that anxiety to mobile unheaval, stating: 

“Even so, a number of respondents expressed concern about the new dynamics of mobile – in making it more difficult to make money than even desktop – and helping tech platforms get even stronger:

Across our respondents there was a strong consensus on the need to diversify revenue streams to replace declining advertising revenue and to contingency plan against increased ad block usage. A number of respondents talked specifically about moving the focus away from page views and display ads in 2016.”

We’ll see a video investment boom

Video is arguably becoming the default form of content on the internet.

Zenith Optimedia predict that the average amount of time people will spend consuming online video each day will increase by nearly 20 percent in 2016, driven largely by mobile and tablet viewing. That’s good news, considering that there’s over 500 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute – and that Facebook is (arguably) catching up in terms of views.

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So it’s perhaps no surprise – given the historic higher CPMs for video content – that many publishers are putting serious investment in their video capabilities. The Reuters Institute survey found that a full 79 percent of respondees were planning on doing just that in 2016.

However, the ability to produce copious amounts of digital video isn’t necessarily a license to print money, as the report explains: 

“Twitter also opened its video platform to publishers, adding autoplay in 2015, while Google announced plans to white label its video player for free to publishers, a move that will drive far more professional news content through the YouTube network.

“Monetisation of video remains an issue for 2016 with all eyes on Facebook.” 

Birth of a new medium

When Facebook announced their Notify app, laying claim to the mobile notification as a medium in and of itself, there was much stroking of analysts’ chins and slow acknowledgement that the social giant was probably right to label it that.

Subhajit Banerjee, mobile editor for the Guardian, said: 

“It’s quite a different thing. They’ve taken notifications way beyond breaking news. Their argument is that ‘if this is becoming the inbox you are increasingly making sense of the world through that screen’. They want to take control of that screen.”

That’s reflected in the rapid rise of notification use among publishers, despite the huge uncertainty around how that ‘glance’ content can be monetised (presumably the hope is that users will follow that notification somewhere easier to display ads). The Reuters survey found that: 

“Notifications represent both a challenge and an opportunity. The format makes it harder to monetise content and provide distinctiveness but will ultimately be critical in helping publishers drive loyalty and repeat visits to websites and apps.”

And, of course, publishers would be mad not to fear the arrival of Notify into that competition. If we’ve learned anything over the past few years it’s that you should never bet against Facebook’s ability to make something work – especially at the expense of publishers.

Accurate data is more important than ever

Accurate data – whether it’s about the personal details of users or how content is performing in real-time – has been the base level of currency required for publishers to succeed online for a while now.

According to the Reuters Institute survey, it’s only going to become more important for publishers over the next year.

“Around two thirds of publishers who responded to our survey (65%) had deployed Chartbeat in their newsrooms to provide real time feedback. 15% were using NewsWhip, a specialist tool for understanding how content is performing in social media, and almost half (45%) had also built their own home-grown systems to help understand how content was being used.” 

So there you have it. All the predictions about 2016 being 2015 “but more so” appear to be coming to pass. 

But it’s worth noting that the things that caused the biggest disruption to the media industry over the past year were black swan problems like adblocking – things that couldn’t have been predicted because they were outside the context of publishers’ experiences.

So while predictions like those found in the Reuters Institute survey are invaluable for publishers looking to capitalise on the incipient trends of 2016, history has demonstrated that even the most well-laid tracks don’t always prevent trains from derailing.

Image used courtesy of jacinta lluch valero via Flickr used under a Creative Commons license.